Gay cruising saunas and sex clubs that were closed by law during the AIDS crisis in the 80s and 90s have inspired a new art show by British multimedia artist John Walter. Alien Sex Club, which opens today at Ambika P3 gallery, explores the relationship between visual culture and HIV by way of a "cruise maze" architectural installation that features painting, video, sculpture and performance, and also offers HIV testing to visitors, in partnership with the Terence Higgins Trust.
"The exhibition aims to use art as a way of addressing increasing rates of HIV diagnosis in gay men in the UK and open up a discussion about that," Walters told i-D. Alien Sex Club seeks, "to update the discourse about art being a political tool by doing activism in a new way, not the 80s way," Walter says, explaining that, "because HIV has changed in that time due to changes in treatment and the (in)visibility of HIV - I'm using a maximalist aesthetic to look at HIV as a web of interconnecting problems, whereas artists like Felix Gonzalez Torres were using a minimalist aesthetic to address it earlier in the AIDS crisis."
Though the cruising saunas and clubs have closed down, apps like Grindr, Hornet and Scruff have taken their place, and there is still an appetite to meet strangers for sex, despite the risks. If the show represents a new activism, what is its message? "There's not a message as such," says Walter: "The show is a completely immersive, colour saturated, playful world. The HIV testing is an extension of my use of hospitality and suggests to people that testing should be less scary and taboo and that people should take the responsibility to know their HIV status and act accordingly to help reduce the spread of the virus… but it's not preachy or 'educational'."
Alien Sex Club is at Ambika P3 in London until 14 August. The show opens in Liverpool 30 October - 1 December 2015 at Homotopia Festival.